The Nepalese Supreme Court has finally upheld the murder verdict on Charles Sobhraj, the Asian serial-killer known as The Serpent, for the murder of a young woman he committed in 1975.
It was a surprise decision because the case seems to rest on blurred photocopies and books and films, neither of which are permissible as evidence, but it looks like the conclusion of a 35-year case and a story that is more extraordinary than any movie.
In the 1970s and for some time after, the mere mention of the name Charles Sobhraj was enough to give every female (and some male) Western traveller nightmares. This charismatic serial-killer would prey on their naïve curiosity, befriend them… And then kill them.
Allegedly, he robbed and murdered at least 12 young women between 1974 and 1976 in India, Thailand, Nepal and Malaysia using the proceeds to pay for his addiction to gambling and a lavish lifestyle he had enjoyed since a life of crime that began when he was in his teens.
Rather like the his fellow psychopathic Charles Manson in the US, he used his guile to drug and then ‘cure’ unsuspecting travellers, ensuring their trust. Later he would rob them of their money and passports and eliminate them if he came under suspicion.
He was finally arrested in New Delhi in 1976 when he was caught with two of his acolytes, Barbara Sheryl Smith and Mary Ellen Eather, trying to drug a group of French students.
Prison literally held no bars for Sobhraj because he had escaped before, once from Bombay in 1970 and shortly afterwards in Kabul. At that time Kabul was as much a part of the hippy trail as Bangkok and Goa are today.
Sobhraj had smuggled gems into the Delhi prison and gave a bedazzled media the story of a lifetime. The subsequent fanfare meant he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, instead of the death sentence and he became a celebrity prisoner giving interviews to Western media, revelling in the role and living a life of pampered privilege.
But other countries also wanted to extradite him and he realised that if he didn’t extend his Indian sentence then a 20-year Thai murder warrant would still be valid and he would be deported and probable executed. So towards the end of his sentence he put on a big party, drugged his guards and escaped yet again.
Rather like detective Jack Slipper of Scotland Yard who was constantly outwitted by Great Train robber Ronnie Biggs, the persistent Inspector Zende of the Mumbai Police who tracked him down to the O’Coqueiro restaurant in Goa was similarly out-thought.
By bizarre coincidence O’Coqueiro is 500 metres from my house in Goa and my nearest restaurant, which has even erected a statue in his ‘honour’. According to regulars, at that time O’Coquiero was the centre of things in Goa because it was one of the only places to have a STD public telephone and they all believed he chose that restaurant in order to be caught.
If so, his ploy worked perfectly. Shobraj subsequently had his prison term extended by 10 years, thus obviating his 20-year Thai warrant. He was allowed to return to France in 1997.
Several years later Sobhraj went to Kathmandu posing as a businessman, but he became too cocky and was arrested on his next visit in 2003 for the murder of American tourist Connie Jo Bronzich. Since then he has tried every trick in Nepal’s statute book to get out of jail free.
Even so, a recent UN declaration that he was given an unfair trial means The Serpent may yet slither free from the tentacles of the law and Mr Hatchand Bhaonani Gurumukh Charles Sobhraj may be a free man again. Lock up your daughters!